Have Los Angeles teachers unions gone too far?

Have Los Angeles teachers unions gone too far?

California Federation of TeachersThe American Federation of Teachers sponsored a “day of action” Monday to ostensibly shed light on educational issues. Teachers throughout the country — with varying success — staged demonstrations discussing a laundry list of union priorities. Its state affiliate here is the California Federation of Teaches.

In California, where unions have long wielded more influence than in most states, the protests took an interesting turn. That is, Los Angeles teachers mostly just focused on themselves — not students.

Los Angeles teachers, who are relatively powerful, drew light to a very specific issue, one they are facing heat for (even from Democratic legislators). The Los Angeles Times reported that United Teachers Los Angeles members protested “against the conditions under which the L.A. Unified School District handles teachers who are facing allegations of misconduct.”

L.A. Unified teachers are represented by both the CFT and the larger California Teachers Association.

The union members held “vigils” for teachers who were spending time in Los Angeles Unified School District offices because of their impending misconduct cases. The union focused on defending teachers plausibly accused of wrongdoing — from sexual misconduct to aggressive behavior against students.

One teacher, explaining the protest, asked the Times, “What kind of school district removes a teacher from the classroom if a 13-year-old said so?”

The protests are a response to a crackdown on misbehaving teachers. After the district was forced to pay Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt — who sexually molested countless children and photographed them ingesting his bodily fluids — $40,000 to settle his case, the district opened up hundreds of cases against teachers. Those protesting said that the district had gone too far and was no longer defending students, but attacking teachers.

Context

In order to understand why Los Angeles teachers would focus on such a specific issue, particularly on a day meant to focus on broader educational problems, one should understand the context of just how powerful teachers unions are in California.

A report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute ranked teachers unions in California as the sixth strongest in the United States.

The report noted several interesting facts about the influence of California teachers unions in politics. Teachers unions gave 4.3 percent of all money received by political parties in California.  And more than 12 percent of all members of the California delegations to Democratic and Republican national conventions were members of teachers unions.

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California School of Policy, Planning and Development, told CalWatchdog.com that teachers unions, which typically align with the Democratic Party, “basically own the Legislature.”

Further, California teachers unions have the strongest bargaining power of any state in the entire country.

“California has the most union-friendly bargaining laws in the nation,” the report noted, making Monday’s protest all the more perplexing.

The report concluded:

The Golden State’s teacher unions are quite powerful; in a state that does not spend much on K-12 education, they’ve gathered considerable internal resources (and do not shy away from dedicating those resources to state politics — with apparent success, given their present reputation for influence). Although charter and employment policies are not well aligned with traditional union interests, California is exceptionally permissive when it comes to teacher bargaining rights.

Jeffe added that, while teachers unions are already very powerful in California, they will likely see their clout increase even more in the coming years.

“The power of the teachers unions may only increase, because the power of Republicans in the Legislature has already begun to decrease,” she said. “The Republican Party in this state is losing registration and losing clout.”



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